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HomeNewsInternationalBreaking down the complex history between Israel and Palestine

Breaking down the complex history between Israel and Palestine

A timeline of the dispute over the region

This piece has been reviewed and edited for clarity.

Before 1917

  • Jews inhabited the region currently known as Israel/Palestine until the first Babylonian Exile of 586 BCE, or 597 BCE according to some scholars. The Babylonians took over the Kingdom of Judea, part of present-day Israel/Palestine including the holy city of Jerusalem, and part of the Jewish population was deported into slavery
  • When the Persians conquered Babylonia in 538 BCE, they permitted the Jews to return to Israel/Palestine, but part of the population voluntarily didn’t return
  • From 66-70 CE, Jews revolted against Roman occupation in Judea until the Romans destroyed the Jewish temple in Jerusalem. Jews then left Judea in great numbers to make a home elsewhere. 


  • European colonialism was rampant in the 1800s as countries raced to conquer places outside of Europe including the Middle East. 
  • In 1917, John Balfour, Britain’s then foreign secretary, wrote a letter known as the Balfour Declaration committing to establish a home for Jewish people in Palestine. The declaration appeased the Zionist movement, which believes in a Jewish right to the holy land of Jerusalem, or Zion, which is within Palestine. 
  • Jerusalem is a city of religious significance for many groups including Muslims, Jews and Christians. At the time, more than 90 per cent of the population of the promised territory were Palestinian Arab natives. 
  • Following the First World War, the League of Nations gave Britain a mandate to rule Palestine until the creation of a Jewish state and Britain facilitated mass Jewish migration into the territory. 


  • Looking to escape the rise of Nazism and mass antisemitism in Europe, Jewish people continued to migrate to Palestine. Between 1932 and 1935, the Jewish population increased by more than 160,000


  • Tensions between Jewish immigrants and Palestinians were rising in the region, and in 1937, Palestinians initiated a resistance movement against British occupation. 
  • By late 1939, Britain had gathered 30,000 troops in Palestine. They bombed villages, imposed curfews and performed mass detentions and summary killings. In those three years, British forces imprisoned 5,600 Palestinians, killed 5,000 and wounded between 15,000 and 20,000.


  • 33 per cent of the population in Palestine was now made up of Jewish people but, they only owned 6 per cent of the land. In response, the UN passed Resolution 181 calling for the partition of Palestine. The Jewish community in Palestine received this as a legal basis for the establishment of Israel. 
  • The plan was rejected by Palestinians because it allocated 55 per cent of Palestine, including the majority of its fertile coastal region, to the Jewish state. The plan was never implemented on the ground. 

Image Credit: Al Jazeera


In 1948, Zionist paramilitaries destroyed more than 500 Palestinian villages, towns and cities, killing an estimated 15,000 Palestinians. They captured 78 per cent of historic Palestine and forced 750,000 Palestineans out of their homes in what is referred to as a “Nakba,” or “catastrophe” in Arabic. 

The West Bank and the Gaza Strip were created from the remaining 22 per cent of Palestine. Britain withdrew from Palestine and in May 1948, Israel announced its establishment as a state. The UN General Assembly passed Resolution 194 in December of the same year, calling for the right of return for Palestinian refugees. 

Image Credit: Al Jazeera


  • In the Six-Day War (also known as June War) between Israel and the coalition of Arab States in June 1967, Israel occupied the rest of Palestine including the Gaza Strip, the West Bank and East Jerusalem. This marked a second displacement for Palestinians, who were forced to live in the West Bank and Gaza Strip under military occupation. 
  • At the time, the United States was concerned about communism and Soviet presence in the Middle East. They were afraid the Six-Day War would turn into a proxy battle for the Cold War and liked that Israel ended it quickly. This led to Israel and the United States becoming close allies. 


  • The Palestine Liberation Organization used Lebanon as its base from the 1960s to the 1980s but was unaffiliated with the Lebanese government. 
  • In 1982, an Iraq-based radical offshoot of the Palestine Liberation Organization called Abu Nidal Organization attempted to assassinate Israel’s ambassador to Britain but failed. 
  • Israeli forces then eradicated all Palestinian groups from Lebanon. Israel invaded Southern Lebanon, including the capital of Beirut, and caused mass civilian casualties and destruction. 


  • In 1987, four Palestinians were killed when an Israeli truck crashed into two vans carrying Palestinian workers. This resulted in initially peaceful mass protests, strikes and civil disobedience that became known as the First Intifada, which is Arabic for “shaking off.” 
  • The nonviolent protests that were committed to ending Israeli occupation and establishing Palestinian independence turned violent when met with Israeli forces resulting in approximately 2,000 deaths. 
  • The Intifada resulted in the establishment of the Hamas movement, a group that engages in armed resistance against Israel and attempts to create a Palestinian state in its place. 


  • The First Intifada ended with the Oslo Accords in 1993, which established the Palestinian Authority as the interim government in the West Bank and Gaza. Israel also agreed to withdraw its forces from those zones and the Palestine Liberation Organization agreed to recognize the state of Israel and the right of its citizens to live in peace. 



  • Right-wing Israeli politician Ariel Sharon entered Al-Aqsa Mosque accompanied by 1,000 members of the Israeli police. The mosque is a sacred place of worship for Muslims and an important site for Jews as the former location of the Temple of Jerusalem. The site is a point of tension between Israel and Palestine. This action was received by Palestinians as reiterating Israel’s claims to the contested site in light of discussions between both states’ governments about sharing Jerusalem. This brought an end to the era of peace talks and ushered in the Second Intifada when Palestinians started protesting mostly peacefully in response. 
  • Israel countered the protests initially by firing rubber bullets at the protesters, which turned into shooting actual ammunition and sending tanks and helicopters into Palestinian territory. 
  • Protests turned violent and escalated to Palestinians carrying out suicide bombings and shootings within Israel’s internationally recognized borders. Israel then re-entered and occupied parts of Gaza and the West Bank, rampantly building settlements and constructing a separation wall. More than 4,300 people, mostly Palestinians, died before a ceasefire was declared in 2003. 



  • Israel temporarily withdrew from Gaza and removed Israeli forces and settlements. They vacated four Israeli settlements in the West Bank and relinquished control of Gaza to the Palestinian Authority.




  • In November 2008, Israeli forces launched an attack on Gaza to kill Hamas forces despite agreeing to a ceasefire months before. This increased tensions and caused Israel to launch a weeks-long assault of bombing and ground invasion in Gaza. This kicked off a period of military assaults in Gaza from 2008 to 2014 that resulted in the displacement of half a million people
  • According to the UN, approximately 6,400 Palestinians and 300 Israelis have been killed in ongoing violence since 2008, not counting recent fatalities. 
  • Gaza’s infrastructure was also effectively destroyed with rebuilding being difficult because of Israel’s blockade on Gaza and restrictions on construction materials entering the territory. 
  • Tactics used in the 2008 assault and those used in following years by Israeli forces were later deemed war crimes by UN officials. They also found that Palestinian militants committed war crimes by shooting rockets at Israeli civilians. Outbreaks of violence also continued post-2014 




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